Sincerely Yours: The Pinkerton Detective Agency

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Scandal.

Intrigue.

THE Pinkerton Detective Agency.

 

Lest you think differently, Bloomington has been a hopping town for some years now. And university students today are different in many ways from the students of yore – but similar in so many more.

In the 19th century and into the early 20th, college students across the country would anonymously publish satirical and sometimes scandalous underground newsletters called boguses. They used these outlets to comment on rival organizations, students, and oftentimes, university faculty. We have some terrific examples of these publications in the Indiana University Archives, but none created a stir as much as what we call the “Turd” bogus. (Yes, really.)

On a spring morning in 1890, Bloomington residents woke to find that a particularly vulgar bogus had been delivered to their doorsteps during the night. The authors accomplished much in its single page, attacking Indiana University students and faculty by calling into question their intellect, morality, and sobriety.

Bloomington citizens were outraged, as at many households children found and read the bogus before parents got to it. And the University administration? Well, you can imagine their response. While unhappy about the situation himself, in public President Jordan tried to play the “boys will be boys” card. The IU Board of Trustees, however, was having none of it. They wanted the responsible students punished, so they called in the big guns to find the dastardly authors – none other than Chicago’s Pinkerton National Detective Agency.

The Pinkerton operative, known to us only as J.H.S., arrived in Bloomington in the wee hours of April 26th, 1890. In the Archives, we have a terrific series of letters the investigator sent to back to headquarters in Chicago. His reports read like something out of a detective novel: private conversations with students in his hotel room where he would try to trick them into confessing, lurking around town to hear what talk he could of the publication, etc.

The Pinkerton agent remained in Bloomington for nearly two weeks, dutifully reporting back each day, but it was the work of wagging tongues that revealed the authors and not so much J.H.S.’ fine detective work. As President Jordan suspected from the beginning due to the content and tone of the bogus, it was seven members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity who authored it. At the last moment, some of the writers lost their nerve and hid the newsletter in a trunk. The others, however, retrieved the bogus and distributed copies throughout the town.

Many in the guilty party were from prominent families, including Nicholas Robertson, son of IU Trustee Robert Stoddart Robertson. Nonetheless, all seven were expelled from the University. Connections, however, had its benefits, of course. In June 1892, the faculty relented and degrees were granted to five of the men, and all seven were reinstated into the University with good standing.

Below you can read the first letter of the Pinkerton operative — click the image for the full PDF of the letter, and if you’d like to read more, contact the Archives!

What? You want to read the bogus that created such a stir? Well, be warned that it really is quite vile. But here you go – click on the bogus image to open a larger version, which you can then blow up for full reading pleasure.

Letter to L.V. Buskirk from William A. Pinkerton, April 28, 1890
Yes, THE Pinkerton Detective Agency

 

Bang! Zoom! KaPow! Comic books in the classroom

Indiana University has a really fun new series of commercials featuring some of our alumni with name recognition. The commercials flash back to their time on campus and talks about how they would not be where they are now if it weren’t for IU. The most recent release features Michael Uslan who earned his undergraduate (1973), master’s (1975) and law degrees (1976), all from IU. Today you may know him as one of Hollywood’s most accomplished movie producers and a Professor of Practice at IU’s Media School.

But in the 1970s, you may have just thought of him as a comic book geek. But what this comic book geek knew was that 1. He wanted to do something that would relate to his love of comics and 2. There was so much to be learned from this genre. Enter IU and its willingness to experiment.

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Michael Uslan in the classroom. (Or, you know, an actor. Not really Michael Uslan.) Click on the image to view commercial on YouTube!

In the late 1960s, the College of Arts and Sciences established a new “Experimental Curriculum” along with a committee to review and hear proposals. The first few rounds only brought proposals from faculty, but eventually the process was opened to students who had backing from a faculty member. Luckily for Uslan, he was going to school at the birthplace of Folklore studies in the United States. He approached Dr. Henry Glassie, then an Assistant Professor of Folklore, with his proposal of a for-credit course called “The Comic Book in Society.” In his book, The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir, Uslan says Glassie was supportive of the course proposal from the beginning. With the first hurdle conquered, Uslan next had his 15 minute appointment to convince the committee that this was a good idea.

As he writes in his memoir, it sounds like Uslan was entering a bit of a lion’s den (or, as he describes it, the Justice League of America’s Secret Sanctum). Uslan launched into his pitch outlining how he would approach the subject academically and offered his thoughts that the comic book was simply modern-day mythology. The Dean (or chair) scoffed at this so Uslan asked him if he could tell him a bit of the Biblical story of Moses. The Dean obliged. So then Uslan asked him to recount the story of Superman. The Dean began but before he got very far, a light came on and he said, “Mr. Uslan, your course is accredited.”

Uslan says before this he had been casually teaching other students about comic books for some time now and another IU student, Roger Stern, had also done some work to teach with comic books on campus. But this was his opportunity to create a full-fledged syllabus and to really bring attention to the genre. He taught his first class as a junior.

Thankfully, a good chunk of IU Professor Leo Solt’s records from his role as Chair of the Experimental Curriculum Committee found their way to the University Archives via History Department records. As a result, researchers today can review one of Uslan’s proposals, examine what other experimental courses were proposed, approved, and denied, and also, see Uslan’s letter to the committee with his recommendations on how to continue the popular course upon his graduation.

The fall '72 course proposal
The fall ’72 course proposal

The course garnered national attention and Uslan found himself thrust into the media spotlight (well, he didn’t just “find” himself there. According to The Boy Who Loved Batman, Uslan actually called one media outlet disguised as a disgusted citizen ranting that such a course was being taught at Indiana University in a [successful] attempt to whip up some attention). By the time he graduated, the course had gone from a 1 credit course taught by Stern to a full 3 credit course.

September 1972. Uslan (on right) with teaching assistant Larry Goltz.

In reviewing the syllabus, this was no cushy course. Students had recommended and required reading (required reading = comic books, such as Spiderman, Conan, and Mr. Miracle. If not available on the stands, students were instructed to see him to borrow from his extensive collection.) Class participation was required and graded assignments included a mid-term paper and a final project that entailed creating and drawing their own comic strip (“If you can’t draw, detailed stick figures will do”). Guest speakers from some of the major comic book companies were incorporated into the syllabus, as Uslan had contacts with many of them. His Fall 1972 syllabus says potential visitors included Buster Crabbe and Kirk Alyn!

That’s just a little taste of Uslan’s time here at IU. He also met his wife, paid for her engagement ring and living expenses by selling a large chunk of his comic book collection, had a popular radio show on WIUS that he and his co-host also performed live at parties (for a meaty $300 fee)…his IU story goes on. In recent years, Uslan has given back to the university that helped him get his start in many ways, but one from which YOU can directly benefit, right now, today, is the extensive collection of comic books, graphic novels, and personal papers he has donated to IU’s Lilly Library. A searchable database is available via their web site, along with a request form to view any of the materials.

May 8, 1976, Law School commencement.  KaPow!

Sincerely Yours – Letters from the Archives: Helen Keller

William Lowe Bryan – Indiana University alumnus, professor, vice president, president, and finally, president emeritus – had a dazzling array of correspondents over the years. Included on the roster were presidents, entertainers, writers, scientists….the list goes on. They are all fascinating but when I first stumbled across the below in his presidential correspondence a few years ago, the writer’s evident pain rather took my breath away:

Helen Keller to William Lowe Bryan, December 31, 1936

Most American schoolchildren learn the story of Helen Keller but just a recap: as a toddler, Keller fell ill and once recovered, had lost both her hearing and vision. As she grew, she developed a method of communicating with her family but in 1886 her parents sought additional help for their daughter and found themselves at the Perkins Institute for the Blind. The school’s director asked 20-year old teacher Anne Sullivan, who had herself become visually impaired due to a childhood illness, to work with young Helen. Thus began a lifelong friendship between the two. In October 1936, Anne suffered a heart attack and died five days later at the home she shared with Helen.

“From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience”

From War to PeaceIn 1953, Malcolm “Mac” Fleming joined the Indiana University School of Education and the Audio-Visual Center of Adult Education, where he began as an instructor and acting supervisor of motion pictures. What students may not have known is that their young instructor had been taught the trade by Uncle Sam.

Originally from Oregon, once the Army heard Fleming knew his way around a camera, they transferred him to the Signal Corps Photo Center in New York to be trained as a combat photographer. Billeted near Times Square, Mac practiced his craft on the streets of Manhattan, capturing shots of the busy metropolis, the results later reviewed and critiqued by his trainers. At his next stop in England, Fleming was told the Army needed motion picture photographers, so “[the sergeant] quickly taught me how to load a one-hundred-foot roll of 35 mm motion picture film into a handheld Eymo camera and I became a cinematographer overnight.”

In the belt pouch meant for a first aid kit, Mac instead carried his own small camera so that in addition to the official Army photos, he could capture shots of scenes that were of personal interest. In a field notebook, he documented these images just as he did the Army photos and films, and what resulted was a rich record of one young soldier’s experience in the European Theater. The destruction, the refugees carrying what possessions they could, and village life that went on as it could were all captured by Fleming’s little camera.

Fleming's caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full:
Fleming’s caption typed on reverse side of image reads, in full: “Ruins now lie at the feet of the iron figure of Kaiser Wilhelm. A German living in a nearby room amid the rubble showed me this viewpoint. Looking at it while I took the pic he said that Hitler had gotten what he’d been pleading for–total war.” July 9, 1945, Nuremberg, Germany.

Now in his 90s, Prof. Fleming has donated his extensive collection to the University Archives, but not before collaborating with the IU Press in a gorgeous book, “From War to Peace in 1945 Germany: A GI’s Experience.” The book which includes his original notes, partnered with updated captions and a foreword by James H. Madison, IU’s Thomas and Kathryn Miller Professor Emeritus of History, and an afterword by Brad Cook, Curator of Photographs here in the Archives, is a must have for anybody with an interest in World War II.

An update on “Miss Carrie”

It’s difficult to even know where to begin. On July 24, I posted “A previously unknown IU pioneer,” detailing how I stumbled across an 1898 newspaper article about the first African American woman to enroll at Indiana University. As I mentioned in that article, this is history that had long ago been forgotten so for us, this was not only “new,” it was “news.” From the time I found that article, I spent the next two weeks as time allowed working to uncover anything else I could about “Miss Carrie,” as I’ve come to know her, but by the time of my blog post, I had decided I just had to put the project aside. My hopes were that someone else would come across my post in the same serendipitous manner and be able to help track down Carrie’s family so that we could obtain more information, a photograph, and to make certain they knew about her status at IU.

Well, from that little blog post came a tremendous amount of publicity, thanks to a LOT of help from my friends in IU and Library Communications. I had my first ever radio interview, several IU web sites wrote about it, and the story was even on the front page of the local newspaper, the Herald-Times (above the fold, which I’m told is a Big Deal). My call for help in finding out more about Miss Carrie had clearly been heard. I received several emails that helped point me to some resources I had not yet tried, including a database for historical African American newspapers, to which the IU Libraries has a subscription. In it, I got my first look at Carrie in a story about her high school graduation that appeared in the Indianapolis Freeman in 1897:

Drawing of Carrie Parker from Indianapolis Freeman, June 5, 1897.
Drawing of Carrie Parker from Indianapolis Freeman, June 5, 1897.

It’s not great but it was a start! Additional searches turned up more hits in the Indianapolis Recorder, a newspaper that has been in circulation for the African American community since the 19th century. In it, I found a very short article from February 1899 (after Carrie had left IU) that said, “Miss Carrie Parker has been obliged to discontinue her studies at the State University on account of nervous trouble. She hopes to resume work again at the beginning of the spring term.” The next month, they reported that Carrie and John G. Taylor had been married and that it “was quite a surprise to their many friends.”

Finding the family

These leads were enough to keep me going in my search for Carrie’s family. I won’t pain you with the all the details but I sent many emails and made many phone calls. From my previous research, I had found the census records that listed Carrie and John’s children and I had tried some half-hearted Google and Ancestry searches on them but I decided to give it another go. This time, my Google searches seemed to indicate there was some possibility that Carrie’s son Leon Parker Taylor was still alive. Surely that wasn’t right because he would be (counts on fingers) 99 years old. That had to be a mistake. But it kept turning up that Leon Parker Taylor was alive and living in southern Michigan.

So what’s an archivist to do? I called on my brothers and sisters in the information world, the public library of the little southern Michigan town. I know the librarian probably thought I was more than a little nuts as I told him my story but I gave him Leon’s information and asked if he could find out if he was indeed still living in their town of 12,000. By the end of day, my new best friend Earl had emailed me, confirming Mr. Taylor was still alive and gave me his phone number and address.

WHAT?  

I KNOW!

The next morning, I called Mr. Taylor as soon as I thought it a decent time. He was unavailable but I talked to his daughter, Carol. I told her the story about how I had just “rediscovered” her grandmother Carrie Parker and that she was the first black woman to enter IU. Carol’s response? “Oh yes, ma’am!” Apparently the family knew all along! She told me a few little tidbits about Carrie but said she wanted to save the storytelling for her father and he would call me back.

When Mr. Taylor called me, I just about fell in love. This man is incredibly sweet, incredibly sharp, and incredibly generous with his time. He talked to me about his mother a bit, said he would look for a picture of her but mainly he wanted to know, “How did you find me?!” Then he told me that because he was retired (I hope so!) and I had worked so hard to find him, he wanted to come to Bloomington to visit me. He would talk with his daughter and get back with me but he definitely wanted to come before winter.

WHAT? 

I KNOW!

Well, he wasn’t wasting any time. Last Monday he called and asked if it would be okay for him, his daughter, and two nieces to visit that Thursday. It wasn’t a long drive and they just planned to come for the day.

I reached out to my friends throughout the University and we scrambled to roll out as much of the red carpet as we could with this short notice. You all, it was amazing. The family was wonderful. And the University overwhelmed them – in a good way – with its response to this rediscovery. At lunch, Vice President Yolanda Trevino told the family IU wants to work with them to develop an appropriate way to honor Carrie with a named scholarship or award. Then Kelly Kish from the President’s Office told them they plan to commission a portrait that will become part of the University’s permanent collection. Clarence Boone from the IU Alumni Association invited them all to return as guests of the University for this year’s Homecoming, at which time the Neal-Marshall Alumni Association will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. There may or may not have been a few tears shed and shared.

Leon "Parker" Taylor holds the only photograph his family could locate of his mother, seated bottom middle surrounded by her children.  Parker is the young gentleman in the upper left corner. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.
Taylor holds the only photograph the family could locate of his mother, seated bottom middle surrounded by her children. Parker is in the upper left corner. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.
Leon "Parker"  Taylor, 99 year old son of Carrie Parker Taylor Eaton, the first African American to enroll at IU. She attended during the 1898 calendar year. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.
Leon “Parker” Taylor, 99 year old son of Carrie Parker Taylor Eaton, the first African American woman to enroll at IU. She attended during the 1898 calendar year. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

 

So what about Carrie?

Carrie’s story is truly an epic tale.

Her father, Richard, was born a slave in 1834 in North Carolina. Upon emancipation, he retained the surname of his last master, Parker, and settled in Enfield, North Carolina. In an autobiographical sketch obtained from the family, Carrie wrote that it was her mother, who could read and “loved the idea of schooling,” who persuaded her father to move to the north so that their children would have the opportunity to attend school. Thus the move to Clinton, Indiana, when Carrie was just over a year old. Sadly, the family arrived in January 1880 and on March 13, her mother died in childbirth.  Her father wanted to move back home but his mother-in-law, who had traveled with them, convinced him to stay.

Carrie wrote,

Through his teaching and actions my father had instilled into our hearts that no one was better than we, unless he was a better Christian. With this belief in our hearts, none of us have ever been ashamed of our race and none of us could see why the so-called superior race could not see how foolish it is to believe otherwise.

Nonetheless, Carrie and her family faced discrimination — in church, in school, and in work. When Carrie finished middle school, the principal at the time had his own policy that no African American children would pass into high school. So he flunked her. Three times. She was determined to make it through or “die trying.” By the time she stood for her exams the third time, the citizens of the town were on her side and told the school not to interfere with her graduation; the school acquiesced and she finally passed on. She reported that the rest of her time at school went fairly smoothly and I’ve already reported in the previous post about the grand reception she received at her graduation.

The family did not have many details about Carrie’s time at Indiana University. She wrote that she “was not made to feel my color much while there” but as we already knew, she had to work to put her way through school. To do so, she lived with a faculty member and according to her granddaughter Carolyn, the wife heaped insane amounts of work on her and the faculty member was very generous in his interpretation of ‘other duties as assigned.’ So after a year of schoolwork, housework, and trying to keep out of the hands of the good Professor, Carrie decided she needed a break.

By this time she was engaged to John G. Taylor of Bloomington but planned to wait until she received her degree before marrying (the family thought he was also an IU student but the University has no record of such. I’ve not yet spent much time digging into his story). According to her memoir, when she took her break from school, John convinced her to marry him, promising to continue to finance her education. She later told IU folklorist Richard Dorson (more on this later!), “Every year I’d cry to go back” but she never again stepped foot on the Bloomington campus.

I still have much to learn about Carrie and her life but her family says she was a headstrong woman who said what she thought and fought for what she believed to be right. She wrote poetry, and instilled the importance of education upon her family. Her oldest son John graduated at the top of his high school class and received a scholarship to attend the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), where he studied to become an electrical engineer. The plan was that he would come out of school, get a job, and then pay for Parker to also go to school for engineering and they would go into business together. John graduated in the top third of his class but when he came out of college in the early 1930s, the country was deep in the Great Depression. Couple that with his race (according to Parker, there were only three black electrical engineers in the country at the time), and John was unable to secure an engineering position. Anywhere. Ever. So he worked for the post office and Parker had to put aside his dreams of attending school.

I have updated the Box with the autobiography the family gave me of Carrie as well as another amazing find! Karen Land of IU Communications found in Google Books that IU folklorist Richard Dorson had talked to Carrie and her sister Lulu in the 1950s when he was in Michigan doing fieldwork for his book Negro Folktales in Michigan. What’s more, IU’s Lilly Library holds Dorson’s papers, which includes all of his notes from this trip. Lulu and Carrie primarily told Dorson slave tales passed on from their father but there is also an amazing short life history Dorson collected from Carrie.

Me, loving my job. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.
Me, loving my job. Photo courtesy Eric Rudd, Indiana University.

I know I will see the family again (and perhaps meet more) when they return in October, so this story is far from over. But let me share just a few more thoughts with you.

At the Society of American Archivists meeting this year, the Society released a new marketing campaign: Archives Change Lives. I long ago drank the water and believed this. But this. This has proven to me that even an institutional archives can play a part.

#archiveschangelives